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Most people's objections to FACES OF DEATH seem to stem from the fact that the film-makers were obviously straddling the line between documentary and exploitation about as expertly as an extremely drunk driver doing the straight line test. Horribly real scenes are cut and spliced with obvious fakes, cheesy gore effects are thrown together with genuine TV footage of disembodied limbs and innards, disturbing sequences are set to inappropriate library music like Dixieland jazz or slapstick tunes. But let's face up to an uncomfortable fact. FACES OF DEATH was nothing if not trendsetting. These days, 'reality' TV shows, including British television's long-running CRIMEWATCH UK, think nothing of running dopey reconstructions alongside unsettling closed-circuit television footage and grisly crime scene photographs. This make-do-and-mend ethic is at the heart of this film, only the makers draw their own boundaries and are a lot more economical with the truth. If the opening scenes of open-heart surgery give you the dry heaves, switch off, because things get worse. We see the workings of a slaughterhouse, a seal cull, a bullfight, a chicken decapitation, the infamous (but fake) monkey brains sequence, suicide leapers, executions, rotting cadavers, post-mortems, a siege situation...you get the idea. It's all exploitative, certainly, but if your tastes run to this kind of thing - and I watched this film for the exact same reason that I watched John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS as a teenager, to face my fear of the gross and disgusting, to experience the exhilaration of burying myself in someone else's nightmare and realizing the world won't come crashing down about my ears after all - then FACES OF DEATH should certainly satisfy your cravings. It may even change your perceptions about a few things. It's certainly bizarrely uplifting, and actually manages to be somewhat ambitious in the sheer scope of its treatment of (human, animal, environmental, moralistic, ethical) death. Approach with caution.
I first watched this film when I was twelve. I had nightmares for weeks. Nightmares about dying, of course. This film left such an indelible impression in my mind that eight years later, when presented with the option to purchase this movie, I jumped at the chance. After the second viewing I no longer was frightened by the film itself. The thing that scared me was the fact that I paid 15 bucks for it. I somehow felt guilty, disgusted with myself. But I watched the whole thing. No matter how bad I felt, I just kept on watching. Granted, just because you can't turn yourself away from what you're watching, doesn't always mean that what you're watching is quality entertainment. This, by no means, is quality entertainment. This is bottom of the barrel, no doubt about that. But it's still in my collection and it's hands-down, the most borrowed film out of my library.
The movie itself is horrible, but if you look at it from a marketing standpoint it's brilliant! "Faces of Death" is in all of our collective conscience. The infamous "monkey brain scene" has been talked about in this forum ad naseum. Most everyone has seen or at least heard about this movie. It WAS a right of passage from when I was a teenager. "Banned in 46 Countries" made me HAVE to see this as a 15 year old in the late seventies. Look how the country is transfixed by "reality television" of today. This was definitely a precursor. The makers of this movie were not concerned about how the movie looked artistically, they wanted to get your attention, they wanted, no, dared you to watch. I'm sure the people that made this are all retired now and living on private islands with all the money they've made off the FOD series. As well they should! The curiosity of people and the word-of-mouth strategy used worked perfectly for them all over the world (This was well before the internet world we live in today). Masters of marketing they all are. Movie makers today only wish they can get this sort of buzz and interest in a movie. And to all of you that say that the people who watch this are sick and depraved, you know what? They got you too! Your curiosity made you look and watch. That's what the makers of this film wanted all along and you took the bait. It is people's curiosity that got them watching, not their morales. BRILLIANT!
Real open-heart surgery footage opens this bogus mockumentary, about
Dr. Francis B. Gross' journey, which took him "around the world in
search of an understanding of death. Many years ago I was plagued with
a recurring dream....." Segue that into a mock dream sequence, then
into a fairly interesting bit about the mummies of Guanajuato, Mexico;
and the infamous monkey brain-eating sequence, which was later reused
ad nauseam. As effectively gruesome and simultaneously goofball as this
scene is, multiple camera angels reveal it to be staged.
Dog-fighting follows (ugh) As an animal lover, I found this sequence to be more revolting than the open heart surgery.
Our host, narrator Dr. Francis B. Gross, keeps using the word "my", when he says "my travels" etc., but curiously, his presence is only in voice-over narration, he is never shown in any of the footage of, for example, the Maasai people in the Serengeti Plain. While the Maasai may be real, the Iboro (sp?) in the Amazon appear to be completely bogus, as I can find no mention of any tribe with that name. Complete with multiple camera angles and edits, it looks more like a 1970s jungle/ exploitation flick than authentic jungle footage, and it looks more like New Guinea, than the Amazon.
The alligator attack scene, featuring a cameo appearance by Mr. Chia Pet hair from "channel 9 news", balding, and with the (thankfully rare) male cameltoe, during the alligator attack, was obviously staged. No other identification is given as far as, let's say, "Channel 9 News in Miami" or a station id, something like "WXXX Channel 9 News". It doesn't display the interviewer's name or the names of the people he's interviewing, and they keep editing away from the actual gator attack. I counted at least 23 cuts in that 45 seconds long scene, which was most impressive, considering there was only one cameraman from channel 9 on scene.
We are introduced to assassin Francois Jordan, whose voice is distorted, and he is wearing a black mask over his head and face. Why did they bother to distort this alleged assassin's voice and face if they tell us his name is Francois Jordan?
Gross mentions Gary Mark Gilmore's Utah execution in 1977 (which was real) but he claims the gas chamber was introduced in California in 1938. Wrong. It was introduced in Nevada in 1924. Larry DeSilva's faked execution follows, lamely.
The bear attack was more funny than frightening, because it was so badly staged and obviously faked: again, multiple quick cuts and camera angles could not have been achieved
Nature runs amok in Wilkes-Barre, PA, in 1972; tornadoes, volcanoes, wildfires, etc. segues into pompous, incredibly cheesy singing about conservation, with apparently the filmmakers' girlfriend in a green top and white shorts receiving quite a lot of screen time, as a protester allegedly sets himself on fire to protest something or other.
Stunt driver's accident was comically bad. The clapperboard reads "Hell Raisin'", which should be an indication as to how real the footage is. (The rest of the information on the clapperboard is illegible) A real collision of 727 with small aircraft over San Diego lends a slight bit of credibility to otherwise mostly bogus claims of authenticity.
The portions of the movie dealing with real slaughterhouses, cryogenic freezing and rioting, again, are fairly graphic, but again they're done in a documentary type of way, and have more story to go with the gore, unlike some of this film's later ripoffs.
There is more of a story to go along with the gore and shocks here. Granted, it doesn't make much sense and is rarely believable, but that's part of the fun. Exploitive, nonsensical fun, which held my attention from start to finish, as I watched this on video as a teenager many times.
This isn't for those with a weak stomach, but watch it in the same frame of mind you would watch "National Geographic" on safari in Africa or something like that and it can be fun for fans of gore, and unintentionally funny cinema. (Note to the producers: in one scene the narrator refers to 'the country of Africa' - Africa is a continent, not a country)
Before I get responses beginning with "you sick bugger", let me explain that this set of movies is the jewel of my collection strictly for it's cult status. I first saw FOD #1 when I was about 12yrs old in the extreme early 80's. The caption "Banned in 46 countries!" made this a compulsory rental for twisted little minds. During the first viewing however, I can remember distinguishing between the "real" and "fake" clips and thinking that the blood in "Dawn of the Dead" was far more realistic. Jump ahead about 20 yrs. I purchased the 6 video collection (with additional "Executions" video thrown in for good measure) in the late 90's. For those who have only seen clips or stopped after #1, the rest of the videos are pretty much the same (#2 is a lot of war atrocities, #3 has more nature/animal attacks, #4 should be called "Faces of Stupidity" due in part to the dumb ways people are getting killed, and #'s 5 & 6 are a best of compilation....the "real" 5 and 6 are German and Japanese releases that are fairly hard to get a hold of and rather expensive). I watched all of these videos, knowing that the majority of the clips are staged with bad SPFX and the real clips look as though they are unedited news footage, but It's "schlockiness" is mildly entertaining (Dr. Francis B. Gross hosting). The "Executions" tape I received as well however I have been unable to make it through in the past 6 years(everything on there is real and disturbing). I found that in my teens, this series was amateurish and only slightly interesting, but in my mid thirties it is much harder to watch and brings up morality questions that I didn't have when I a kid. The series definitely isn't for the faint of heart, but credit must be given for an unapologetic exploration (albeit 90% phony) of often taboo subjects.
It's really ironic that of all the "shockumentaries" that have turned up on video in recent years the "Faces of Death" series has attracted the most attention (positive and negative), since so much of its "shocking" footage is blatantly phoney. Those with an interest in authentic death and atrocity footage would do better to check out the "Death Scenes" series (3 volumes), "Inhumanities 2" or the British documentary "Executions". (An editorial aside here, since I'm frequently asked why I watch such material: While I wouldn't say that such films are fun or enjoyable to watch, I make myself watch them occasionally to remind myself not to take the best things in life - or life itself, for that matter - for granted.)
Half of this was sickening reality. The other half was a pathetic sham.
This is worth a look for the freak value alone.
The autopsy footage was gut-churning. This was one of the few real spots. Seeing real faces of the dead wasn't easy. The fact that said faces weren't deformed in any real way made it all the more chilling. The lady's suicide was also tough to watch.
The faked footage (executions, croc attack) almost subverted the intention of the film. Dealing with death. If they wanted to show executions, show something that can be verified.
The bear attack was probably influenced by the fake lion attack in 'Great Hunting.' And the middle eastern restaurant (with a white staff) serving the fresh monkey for killing was ripped off of 'Man From Deep River.' The scene with the grieving father trying to raise his dead son & wife through a medium may have been hard to watch for all the wrong reasons.
Most people see this...just to say they've seen it.
I can't remember a time when I've felt so afraid to die!! This movie (the
first of a series) shows you what you've always been frightened to see.
You're staring into the faces of the condemned. You're witnessing the last
moments that others will ever spend on this planet. You're seeing the
horror, terror, and insane fear that strikes without warning as you are
about to die.
Yet, after watching, there is a strange feeling. I walked around for two days unable to erase the images from my mind. I saw this film by accident (my brother and a friend were watching it, I walked in thinking it was "Children of the Corn" and somehow stayed glued to the couch until the last credits rolled).
I never felt nauseous. The only emotion I had was one that I had never TRULY felt before...empathy. I felt sickened for the families of the people who I was watching. I felt like crying because there was nothing I could do. It was just a movie. What I was watching had been done years before. For those people whose faces appeared on the screen, peace had finally come. But me...I would never be the same again.
I saw that movie about ten years ago. To this day, I still see some of the scenes in my mind, particularly when I hear the evening news or see a car accident. For anyone considering renting it, you will be forever changed after watching. It is really quite unlike anything you will ever see.
Ah yes, Faces of Death, that infamous movie that boasts how it was banned in "46 Countries". That one movie that kids of a young age at around the time it came out (late 70's) would whisper to each other about, how it was that movie "you weren't allowed to see." My, how times have changed huh? For starters, as reviewers before me have stated, yes, most, if not all, of the footage in this movie was faked (some of it rather badly too). However, on the other hand, one also has to keep in mind that way back in 1978,79,80, the news of it being faked was not known, so people were being treated too, what they thought, was a controversial, pull no punches look at death. It was a fascinating and original concept/idea/movie at the time of it's inception, but sadly, FOD, as well as it's sequels, just looks terribly dated and lame by 2005 standards.
While not the most vile form of Mondo out there, Faces of Death still packs
a punch. Opening with pitt bull fights, this film shocked me. The vile
sick nature of these films should ONLY be viewed by those with strong
stomachs. Although 85% fake, it still packs a punch that many earlier
mondo's did not. Although the first is not the best of the series, it does
come close. I made the mistake of taking this film to a friends house, only
to be called 'sick and gross' but that happens. The film has no plot and
frankly, Dr. Gross is a sick human. I dont know which was scarier, him or
one of the stiffs.
All over I give this film a 6/10. While not the best mondo, its certainly worth checking out.
On a minor note, theres this part where the cut this horse's throat and let him bleed to death. I dont know if this is real but it sure as heck freaked me out. I just wanted to throw that out there and say again if you have a weak stomach or heart, do NOT watch the film. You wont like it. But if your in the mood for a good old mondo, then check it out.
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